On the Oct. 7, exactly eight years ago, gay university student Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, beaten, and left to die by two of his fellow citizens: Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney. “The Laramie Project,” by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Company, tells the moving story of a town completely upended by this tragic, violent act, and masterfully portrays the lives of a diverse group of people. The play is a compilation of first-person accounts from citizens of Laramie, Wyo. given to members of the Tectonic Theatre Company shortly after this tragedy. The play explores the views of the town on homosexuality, speculation as to the motives for the crime, and the lasting effect that this crime had on the not only the citizens, but the city of Laramie
At Washington-Lee High School, students are currently working to fulfill the play’s potential as an emotional, thought-provoking piece. Each actor portrays several characters, presenting a challenge not only logistically, but also physically, emotionally, and vocally. This is especially true when the characters represent drastically different viewpoints. For example, one student is portraying both Dennis Shepard, Matthew’s father, and Fred Phelps, a radical minister who believes that homosexuality is the ultimate damnation. This degree of flexibility in character underscores the fundamental impartial nature of the play. It condemns no one. Each viewpoint is presented, the story is told, and the audience goes away with a comprehensive experience.
All in all, despite its examination of controversial issues, adult themes, and some strong language, The Laramie Project is a vivid, poignant account of a town severely shaken up and forced to reexamine its values and identity. The true humanity of the piece is awe-inspiring.
Directed by Washington-Lee Theater Arts teacher Scott Sophos, the play features an ensemble of twenty actors playing a variety of roles. Cast members include seniors Mackenzie Baker, Mario Samayoa, Jenny Cook, Sarah Kozyn, Colin Harding, Elise Cohen and Alice Massie.